Meat & Livestock News

EPA Clarifies GMO Definition, Boosting Research Opportunities


  • The EPA has clarified that null segregants are not considered GMOs under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996, opening new avenues for horticultural and agricultural research.
  • This decision aligns New Zealand with OECD countries’ practices, facilitating faster development of disease-resistant and productive plant varieties through traditional breeding methods.

In a significant development for New Zealand’s primary industries, the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has recently clarified the status of null segregants, stating they are not to be classified as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996.

This clarification has been met with enthusiasm from researchers, as it removes previous restrictions and paves the way for innovative breeding techniques in horticulture and agriculture.

Null segregants are offspring of genetically modified organisms that do not carry the genetic modifications of their parents. This ruling is particularly beneficial for accelerated breeding programs. It allows for the use of genetic modifications to induce early fruiting in plants, which can significantly speed up the development of desirable traits, such as disease resistance, through conventional, non-GM selective breeding methods. The genetic modification can then be bred out, resulting in null segregant offspring that are not genetically modified.

This advancement offers promising opportunities for the enhancement and speed breeding of productive plant species in New Zealand, including the development of new varieties of NZ-adapted ryegrass. The EPA’s decision brings New Zealand in line with other OECD countries, such as Australia and the US, ensuring that New Zealand scientists remain competitive on the international stage.

Dr Chris Hill, EPA’s general manager of hazardous substances and new organisms, highlighted the importance of this clarification, noting it provides certainty for researchers and aligns with international best practices.

The analogy he provided compares the genetic inheritance of traits in organisms to a brown-eyed parent having a blue-eyed child who does not inherit the brown-eye gene, illustrating how descendants of genetically modified organisms may not carry the genetic modifications.

The Ministry for Primary Industries will verify the introduction of any specific null segregant into the environment on a case-by-case basis. It’s important to note that this ruling does not alter the regulations concerning food that contains genetically modified organisms or ingredients derived from them, which are governed by the Food Standards Code overseen by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).

The clarification came in response to an application led by AgResearch, supported by 14 other research or industry organisations. AgResearch science team leader Richard Scott expressed relief at the EPA’s decision, stating it provides clarity on a previously grey area and opens the door for further research and benefits to New Zealand’s productive industries, as well as health, nutrition, and wellbeing sectors.